Destroy All Humans is one of those games that overloads its opening moments. The first half hour is a march of new ideas and possibilities, and then the game settles into something surprisingly compact.
This doesn’t matter, if you ask me. It doesn’t matter because certain games offer a comfort in their confines, in missions that encourage you to do the same things over and over again with slight variations and tools that work perfectly well for the one or two acts they’re required to perform. And it doesn’t matter because the setting of a game, the fictional mount, as it were, can be super important when it comes to your enjoyment. Destroy All Humans pretty much proves this.
Open-world games were made for this: you’re an alien bombing around Earth in your UFO. Down on the ground you can probe people – as bad as it sounds – blend in for a bit of stealth, and generally cause localised havoc. Up in the air you can set buildings on fire, reduce skyscrapers to rubble and take out entire army detachments as you whizz back and forth. A proper flying saucer! This is what I want a game to deliver sometimes, and it doesn’t really matter if the game doesn’t deliver much afterwards.
Rote missions, limited interactions, bland environments: it should get dull pretty quick. But it doesn’t for me. Firstly, I never get over that hop from the ground and up into the sky, always wowed by the change in perspective and scope and by the wonderful radioactive whirr of my craft. Secondly, I love the giddy thrill of being a bad guy who’s ultimately just a jerk. You’re evil, sure, but you’re mainly just a pain in this game. You’re evil the way a house cat is evil. Why not take a swipe at whoever passes by?
There are lovely touches. On the ground you can pick stuff up and fling it around with your mind, which is particularly pleasant when the stuff you’re picking up is bulky industrial design from a bubble-gum card version of the 1950s. You can loft trucks through the air and battle huge robots. You can zap people until their brains pop out. You can read people’s thoughts, moving through crowds and getting the same handful of one-liners that may be corny, sure, but which have still stuck in my head for the best part of ten years. You can give the president a hard time.
As is so often with Double-A Team games, the secret shame of Destroy All Humans is that it’s a really great demo. I think I had it on a demo disc back in the original Xbox days, in fact, and it was a proper treat. To be a good demo game, perversely, you’ve really got to nail the fundamentals – everything you do in a demo game has to be fun, because players are going to be going back over the same two or three missions until they’re finally convinced to pay for the full thing. I was very happy to pay for the full thing with Destroy All Humans: this is a wonderful ten minutes of light anarchy repeated over and over in increasingly grand environments. I guess some aliens understand the human race pretty well.